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29th September 2011

Higher bursaries fail to attract poorer applicants

More than 20 universities failed to reach target levels for attracting poor students, despite the offer of means-tested awards

Bigger bursaries from prestigious universities and colleges are not attracting large numbers of underprivileged students, a new report has found.

The report, published by the Office of Fair Access (OFFA), has found that institutions including the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London offered poorer students bursaries of over £2000 in 2009-2010.

Only one in four students at these universities were eligible for bursaries, compared to over 90 per cent of students at the University of Northumbria.

A total of £395 million was spent on scholarships or bursaries from all institutions in the same year, however 23 universities and 21 further education colleges failed to reach target levels for recruiting students from low-income families.

Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU) says it is “over simplistic to suggest that it is the size of bursaries alone that determine where students study,” and encouraged all institutions to provide better support for students from poorer backgrounds.

This support will be harder to provide next year under the new fees system, Hunt said, “Universities will struggle to offer enhanced packages as extra revenue will be used to plug funding gaps following government cuts.”

Wendy Piatt, the director general of the Russell Group defended their record of offering generous levels of financial support, “Not only are our bursaries bigger, but our universities spend more in total than others.” Around one in three Russell Group students receive a bursary or scholarship.

English universities and colleges currently spend a quarter of their additional fee income on attracting and supporting poor and under-represented students, with 75 percent of this spent on students from the very poorest backgrounds.

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